From the Mayor's Desk: Downtown Winnipeg and the Exchange District are on the Move

Building and investing in Winnipeg’s downtown continues to be a priority for City Hall.

Downtown Winnipeg and the Exchange District continue to benefit from key public as well as private investment.

Over the last decade and a half, the City has achieved a lot for this area of Winnipeg, and the list of accomplishments and investment continues to grow.

Large projects such as the MTS Centre, Red River College’s downtown campus, a new Millennium Library, a reinvigorated Central Park, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and the newly expanded RBC Convention Centre have redefined the skyline.

True North Sports and Entertainment announced an investment of $400 million into a mixed-use project in downtown Winnipeg. SkyCity is in the midst of constructing a mixed-use residential development in the heart of the SHED district. And very recently Artis REIT announced a multimillion dollar plan to invest in their property at 360 Main Street and construct a new, residential and commercial building tower at 300 Main Street.

These investments build on years of growth.  Over the last 15 years, nearly 2,600 new housing units have been developed or are currently under construction in the downtown area, representing over 500 million dollars in private-sector investment in the housing sector alone.

And another 600 housing units are currently in the planning stages.

The second intake of the Live Downtown Rental Grant Program, currently underway and administered by CentreVenture (the City’s downtown development corporation), will hopefully encourage a further 700 new rental units to be constructed downtown in the coming years.

Innovation Alley, in the heart of the Exchange District, continues to attract entrepreneurial firms in digital media, information, and knowledge-based industries.

Over the last 10 years, the City has seen tremendous growth in this area as the synergy between artists and technology firms continues to push the creative envelope and foster even greater growth.

Red River College’s presence on Princess Street continues to be a strong foundation and cornerstone to the activity in the Exchange, and suburbanites and tourists are increasingly recognizing it as a place to visit and spend money.

I want to continue to build on this momentum.

I want to continue building a downtown where people can live, work, and play.  A place where residents can enjoy many of the benefits residents in other parts of our city enjoy.

This is why I support the recommendation to remove the Public Safety Building and Civic Parkade and redevelop these lands.

I believe this area represents a tremendous opportunity to further refine and renew the Exchange District, to reconnect the East and West Exchanges, and to build a downtown Winnipeg we can continue to be proud of.

Obviously, any redevelopment of this site will require comprehensive community engagement and a thoughtful plan, and it will be essential that any redevelopment ensures the area remains an acceptable civic and public use.  And key community groups such as Red River College, the Arts and Cultural Industries Association, and leaders from the innovation, arts, and design sectors will be asked to participate ensuring that the revitalization plan coming forward for City Council approval has strong community endorsement.

I do support the rich value Winnipeg’s heritage buildings provide our city.  However, the Public Safety Building is currently at the end of its lifecycle, and the façade of the building has deteriorated to the point that it represents a safety concern.

An external evaluation of strategic alternatives for the Public Safety Building undertaken by Deloitte makes it clear that the current state of the Public Safety Building, as well as the limitations of the structure and exterior cladding, make it unsuitable for a significant and costly restoration project.

The Deloitte report indicates that the restoration of the Public Safety Building would not better meet the needs of the City, would not better contribute to downtown revitalization priorities, and would not provide value above and beyond other alternatives. The Deloitte report concludes these limitations, along with an associated high cost of restoration, combine to make a strong case in favor of demolition.

As a purpose built building as a police station and jail, renovation costs for the Public Safety Building are approximately three times the cost of other similarly aged structures.  As such, the estimated cost on adaptive re-use of the Public Safety Building is $66 million which doesn’t include façade restoration.

The Deloitte report also identifies that the design of the building presents a number of challenges, including:

• A lack of transparency at grade
• The entrance is not at street level and presents accessibility challenges
• The main floor is not barrier-free, which limits its potential uses
• The existing column structure limits the development of underground parking
• The Public Safety Building supporting mechanical systems currently located within the parkade would have to be relocated to a ground level compound which may not fit within the footprint of the Public Safety Building property
• It will be financially impractical to retain the Tyndall Stone cladding

We have a tremendous opportunity to continue building a downtown we can all be proud of, and to continue with important investments in the Exchange District.  Redeveloping the Public Safety Building and Civic Parkade lands is an opportunity we should not allow to pass us by.